Cody Clarke’s Rehearsals is billed as an experimental documentary, one where the film attempts to tell the story of one day in the life of a single woman as she prepares for an acting gig, only it does so by creating that single woman via a collage of sixteen women, edited together to represent the one universal experience. We see different women as they prepare breakfast, read books, go to the park, practice their sides, etc. So, yes, “experimental” definitely applies, and while the footage is fly-on-wall enough for it to be considered a documentary too, I look at it more like a documentary-narrative hybrid, mainly because I have questions about how “true” the documentary aspects are.
For example, if you just filmed a woman at the park, and didn’t tell her what to do, I’d have no problem going “documentary.” But is this a case where the filmmaking captured a bunch of different woman at the park, or is it the case where the director cast a bunch of different women, but told them to go to the park so he could film? Arguably both instances are documentary-friendly, though the latter has more of a preconceived narrative aim to it, hence my belief that this film could be more hybrid than just creating something experimental out of a bunch of footage of sixteen women. Then again, any time a shot is set up in a documentary, or a specific spot is chosen for an interview, isn’t that a bit of subjective narrative being imposed? Did that make any sense? F*****g experimental movies, making me think…
Anyway, like all experimental films, there is a certain amount of patience required. In this case, the film plays like a silent film for almost half its running time. We get ambient noise and the like, but none of the women actually say anything for almost thirty minutes. It works because it plays up the isolation of their day, but eventually there are scattered instances of script reading out loud and the like; for the most part, though, it’s women silently going about their day.
Which I also don’t think plays out chronologically; there are instances where the footage seems to follow some women who have been awake and going about their day for a while, but then we see other women starting their day. Perhaps they woke up later, but if the idea is to piece together a single day out of numerous pieces, having the day hop around like that feels less like a singular day and more like a combination of a few. Thematically it still seems to work, but it does start to call attention to itself. So in that way, the film seems to stray from its own premise.
Overall, though, it’s an interesting film. I don’t know that I’d watch it again, or more specifically, pay attention to it again (I could see it being on in the background, for example, and not requiring much engagement for subsequent viewings), but the premise was intriguing enough. I don’t think it needed to be as long as it is; the same idea done in half the time would seem to limit the feeling of it being more than just one day while also enabling the entire thing to maintain its power and momentum all the way through to the end. Right now it feels repetitious, which takes some of the steam out of the film.
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